Review / SoulCalibur V (PS3)

The fighting game community is an uninclusive one. Everyone remembers their first Street Fighter II match or that first round of Tekken 2, but to actually master and understand the genre takes a certain type of gamer. Not that that’s a bad thing, by any means.

But SoulCalibur has always achieved a happy middle-ground, with a system that’s easy to learn but still offering enough depth to keep that hardcore community happy. It’s an aesthetically pleasing series, with moves that carry satisfying visual feedback and solid weight to each hit.

And the same rings true here in SoulCalibur V, a game that will feel instantly familiar to anyone that’s played one of the pervious entries. But the last iteration of this popular series appeared in 2008, just a year before Street Fighter IV helped bring about the rebirth of the fighting genre on console. Now in 2012, this latest entry is pitting itself against a wealth of competition.

Thankfully the series manages to retain its relevance thanks to the unique blend of weapon-based, 3D combat. Here it sees the addition of the critical edge system, including a power bar that lines itself up with the likes of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It’s a simplistic feature, incorporating hefty damage-dealing attacks through either a brave edge move or a critical edge move, but it certainly adds to the strategy in a game that already allows for a lot of that. They’re great to look at too, much like the rest of SCV, which keeps a high standard with its character models and environments.

But the roots of the series’ system are still in place. You’ll still be timing horizontal strikes to counter that quick side-step and trying to beat down armour before getting in that all-important powerful attack. And there’s still something to be said for the simple thrills the game can give off with its cinematic (read: different camera angle) throws and the like.

Certain series staples have been tweaked – guard impacts now repels moves from any height for example, but this remains the SoulCalibur you’ve always known and loved. Especially appreciated is the ability to continue the fight after a double ring out as players fall into a new arena.

Its roster spreads from the bland safety of newcomer Patroklos to the more outlandish types like Voldo and Aeon. When the system itself doesn’t change all that much it’s down to new characters and refinements to the old ones to keep the series going, and SoulCalibur V delivers in this respect. And, yes, kicking butt as Assassin’s Creed‘s Ezio Auditore, with crossbow combos and sly wrist-gun shots does prove to be the series’ best guest spot since Link made his legendary appearance in SCII.

Character creation and customisation plays as big a part as it did in SCIV, too, with plenty of options to fine tune both look and performance. It’s a feature that separates the series from the rest of the game and enables users to add their own flavour to the already satisfactory roster.

The fighting system is supported by a sweep of multiplayer options and some admittedly limited single player offerings. The game’s story mode is likely to be of little concern to true fighting fans unless they dig the enticing lore that the series has laid out in past instalments. It does well to highlight newcomers like Patroklos and Pyhrra, giving you ample opportunity to test out their styles, but ends up being little more than going from fight to fight with vaguely-animated story sequences padding it out.

It gets its due on the online front, though. Not much has changed from SCIV’s matchmaking but it’s hard to argue that much really needs to.

Crucially, SoulCalibur V boasts one of the better training modes in the genre thanks to the sheer amount of information given to you as you practise and the general ease of the gameplay. It doesn’t assume that the player possess familiarity of gameplay and is more willing to explain the ins and outs to you, unlike certain other fighters that have come along in recent years. Input is immediately and clearly explained as well as hit detection, complete with a host of tweaks to help master characters’ deep move sets. With this in mind, SCV makes a great case for a jumping on point for anyone looking to start their own fighting career.

SoulCalibur V proves to be an incremental improvement over something more significant, but that’s bound to be enough to please fans. This is a game that solidifies the franchises’ strong position in the genre rather than leading it to bold new places and, for newcomers, serves as a great jump on point for a genre that’s currently kicking butt. It’s a rock solid fighter, and 2012’s first great title.